Sunday, 14 February 2016

Exeter Away - 2016

This account first appeared in Red All Over The Land fanzine issue 220.

I don’t care what anyone says about the FA Cup having lost its magic, when the 3rd round draw comes around I still get a bit of a buzz. Who are Liverpool going to get? A tough Premier League or Championship meeting or a minnow? Home or Away? When we were drawn away at Exeter the fixture pricked my interest for a few reasons. Firstly I have family in that part of the world so it felt somehow familiar and it also got me wondering about actually being able to get to the game. Living back down in Wiltshire now unlike for the majority of Liverpool fans it didn’t feel like a particularly lengthy trip. I immediately text my mate Joff, a fellow south west resident and old regular match going mate, both home and away. Our last away had been around two years ago, a glorious trip to Southampton to see Suarez in his peak and when we started to believe that the title really was a possibility. Joff was keen, obviously.

When it was announced that the game would be live on BBC at the ridiculous time of 7.55pm on a Friday night I could completely understand the anger from Liverpool’s regular away support. For us it actually worked out quite well, I’d take a half day off work, train it down via Taunton to collect Joff and get a hotel for the night to give us the chance to have a little night out in Exeter. For us that is what football is all about, it’s not just about the 90 minutes. Of course Liverpool winning is important to me, I’m a horrible human being for at least 24 hours afterwards if we don’t, but getting to go away with Liverpool is one of my favourite things. A chance to spend time with great mates, potentially experience a ground you’ve never been to or even a city or town and of course the atmosphere tends to be a hell of a lot better than at Anfield. So anyway, we immediately got a hotel booked, our chance of getting tickets was extremely slim but our attitude was we’d head down there, enjoy the atmosphere in the pre-match pub, watch it in the pub and then have a good night out in Exeter.

At various intervals leading up to the game I put a few desperate pleas out for tickets on Twitter but wasn't surprised to get absolutely no response. Then a week or so from the match I received a text from the esteemed editor of this very fanzine. “Still after 2 tickets Tom?” Is Suarez a carnivore JJP?! So having confirmed details with John I immediately text Joff - everything had come together. Going without tickets would have been a laugh but this was the icing on the cake.

The week leading up to the game was my first back in work after the Christmas break so I was pretty busy, but the excitement of our impending trip was growing and as me and Joff exchanged messages I jokingly floated the idea of making a banner. And then we thought, why the fuck not? We discussed a simple “Anfield Shrine” one, discarded an idea for Emre Can (sorry Joff it was shit) and settled on something for Lucas. We settled on attempting a stencil of his face and the word “Unlucky!” For those of you not on Twitter or particular au fait or au arsed with the world of social media it will probably mean fuck all to you. But Google “Lucas Unlucky Vine” and I defy you not to be amused by what you find.

So with about 2 days in which to put something together I managed to rope in my designer mate to turn an image of Lucas into a stencil, I bought some fuck off big red material, white spray paint and then spent a very cold and dark Thursday evening painting it on my patio with only a patio light to guide me. The end result was by no means perfect and with more time I’d like to have done a better job. But I was just glad we’d got something together. And it was nowhere near the level of some Chelsea piece of shit. That Hazzard eh? And again, for anyone that didn't get it, or didn't see the point… why don't you try painting a fucking 3 meter wide red banner in the freezing cold and the dark for the red men. Surely creativity, dedication and a few in jokes are what being a Liverpool fan is all about.

So Friday came around and my morning couldn't end quick enough. I jumped on the 1.44pm train from Bristol with Joff going to get on at Taunton. Being exclusively a driver he was a little out of his comfort zone but managed to join me in coach D eventually! To be fair to him for some idiotic reason there was no coach F. We cracked open our first beer and were off - slightly conscious of the well to do students and early office darters that surrounded us. We were in Exeter in no time and outside the station began to spy the odd pair of decent trainers and scouse accents. We jumped a taxi to the hotel which was handily not far from the ground.

The attractive receptionist informed us that they had football lads in tonight, then it would be a load of Rugby lads on the Saturday. “We’ll be getting out of here as quickly as possible then” I replied. Nothing worse than a load of Rugby fans.

It was around 3pm by this stage so it seemed a perfectly reasonable time to start on our usual away diet of lager and Jager Bombs before we made our way to the ground. Joff had identified a pub called the Wells Tavern as being the “away pub”. It was indeed close to the away end (or uncovered shed should I say) but still being early there was very little sign of any reds. We amused ourselves by charming the barmaid and putting money in the jukebox, of which was almost certainly wasted as I have no recollection of our choices coming on.

Slowly but surely a few reds appeared, presumably off later trains & the odd coach that got down early and soon enough a few songs got going. My gut feeling was that there were plenty of regulars who hadn't made the trip and the place wasn't bouncing like the Lloyds Bar in Southampton on our last away but it was enjoyable none the less.

We decided to head in a little early and get the banner up. On reflection I don't think it was that visible from the TV (left hand corner of our end) but it got a few laughs. The end was as we’d imagined, tiny, open and freezing but it was good to be standing.

I suppose I’d better start talking about the football a bit hadn't I? I think we had all expected a weakened side but I’m not sure we expected such a ragtag bunch. I still have the feeling that Klopp was ultimately pretty bemused by the whole experience. I thought we started well and were pretty much all over them but in that sort of, let's play nice, patient, one touch, cultured build up football on what let's face it was more akin to a rugby pitch.

All over them that is for a total of 8 minutes before they broke and slotted an opener. Completely against the run of play, but a good finish and it certainly quietened us down. I felt maybe Randall could have done a bit better and stayed goal side, but that’s probably harsh. It wasn’t long before we were level though and being at the far end I didn’t have a great view of it but it looked to be a tidy finish from Sinclair after a bit of a lucky break. He is a player with obvious talent but clearly no future at the club, by his choosing from all accounts.

Conceding a corner in injury time of the first half is never good, but what happened next was completely unforgivable. It was a decent delivery but conceding direct from a corner at any level is unforgivable, let alone from Liverpool FC. We looked on disheartened and in disbelief before deciding to scurry off for a half time piss. There was mention of having access to the Exeter bar, but we didn’t bother to investigate, safe in the knowledge we’d stick plenty away after the game.

The second half was a strange one, we continued to play some nice football in what was perhaps not the situation for it. Benteke should have scored that header and despite the fact his goals to game ratio is still very good, he doesn’t half seem to miss some good chances. Having said that it was a pretty good save by the keeper, if one you would expect him to make.

The equaliser was naturally met with jubilation and it was a good little move; started and then well finished by Brad Smith. You can say what you like about the level of opposition, but for such a young team thrown together you do have to admit that they showed good character to come back twice. Brendan would have been proud.

All in all I was relatively satisfied with the result. We’d come to a difficult little 3rd round away tie with an absolute random assortment of kids and Enrique and we hadn't gone out of the cup. I was confident we’d batter them at Anfield, even with the same team. Injuries would have hopefully eased by then as well. And I know now that I was proved right.

So we collected our Lucas banner and headed out of the ground with thoughts turning to a decent pint and from my perspective where a few posh student birds might be found (Joff is getting married this year - but more on that later.) But first the chippy called.

Having lined our stomachs we headed back to the hotel for a quick change & to line our stomachs further with Jager. Not 100% sure of where the best drinking establishments were we wandered through the city centre and settled in the end on asking a studenty looking bunch. A rather worse for wear girl proceed to babble something to me about “the monkey suit.” I thought she was at best taking the piss, at worst a racist. Eventually we deciphered that it was in fact a bar and headed there. It seemed a perfectly good spot and we settled down with a pint. It was then I noticed a very familiar face sat across from us. It was the legend that is Peter “EVO” Etherington and a couple of his mates. I expect many of you know EVO but for those who don't he is a well known kopite and face both home and away, author of a series of brilliantly funny and real books about all his years supporting the reds. He was a great encouragement and inspiration when I first started out writing for this very fanzine and running The Anfield Shrine site as a teenager. He was always handy at helping me source away tickets when I was at Uni. So we said hello!

It was great to catch up - must have been 8 or 9 years since I’d last seen him. He hadn't changed a bit. I suspect perhaps I have. His mate Ste stayed with us while another lad they were with (I’m afraid I forget his name) headed back to the hotel. We had moved on to vodka by this point and decided to move on to another bar - I can't remember why, the monkey place was closing perhaps. It was all getting a bit hazy by this stage. Some confusion between Joff and Ste in this final bar resulted in me being double parked on a Guinness and Vodka and Coke. Or simply a pint and and chaser which was the way I saw it. EVO was struggling a bit by this stage and craving his curry dinner, which was understandable. On reflection I was pretty well oiled. Chatting away to Ste I then missed what was the moment of the night. Joff bounded back from the bar with and crazed excited look on his face. “Did you see that mate? Did you see that?” “No sorry mate, what happened?” I replied. Turns out a rather attractive girl had literally just grabbed old Joff at the bar and smacked one on him (a kiss not a right hook.) Now this is a rare occurrence for either of us, even less so for Joff who makes no attempt to encourage that sort of thing, being happily engaged. His missus would have been as shocked as we were. I think we can all agree he is punching. But I didn't doubt him. This mysterious Exeter beauty apparently acted on “impulse.” I was dispatched to find out more but have no recollection of the conversation. I probably ended up insulting her in some way.

So with EVO needing his bed, Joff still bamboozled and me “utterly fucked” was I think how I put it to Ste we decided to call it a night and headed back to our respective hotels.

A good trip all round. The red men are still in the cup, bumped into an old mate and Joff got sexually assaulted by a Bodmin beauty. (Alright I know that’s technically in Cornwall not Devon.)

For some bizarre reason though, Joff didn’t expect them to publish his hotel review. They certainly got a better rating than the reds anyway.

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